Round Up

Here’s a bit of a round up of my travels – what I liked, what I didn’t, what worked well, what I’d do differently next time and just other general bits and pieces.

London

London in late June (early summer) is light.  It’s light at around 3.30/4.00am in the morning until around 10pm at night.  I found this a little difficult to get used to, especially coming from winter in Australia.  My advice if you like your sleep, make sure your windows are closed, blinds pulled down and perhaps invest in some earplugs and an eye mask.

Find a Waitrose, M&S or local fruit stall to stock up on fresh fruit.  Pret a Manger is a great cheap place to find breakfast or a sandwich and they are everywhere.

The underground was really easy to use.  I would suggest getting an Oyster card before you arrive in London.

I would definitely stay at the Rydges Hotel Kensington again.  It wasn’t really walking distance to all the action, but it was a few underground stops away and there was definitely enough in the area to not need to be.  It was close to the underground, supermarkets, plenty of restaurants etc.  I ate at the Hotel restaurant, the Jam Cupboard and was really impressed with the meal.  And of course, Kensington Palace and Hyde Park were just down the road.

There are people out late on the streets, but a lot of stuff doesn’t open til later in the morning.  So use it to sleep in or explore the streets while its quiet or go for a walk through Hyde Park.

Grand Cayman Island

The Caribbean Ocean is stunning.  However, it is very salty.  It played havoc with my hair, hats and clothes.  My suggestions would be to travel with a small container of hair treatment or at least wash your hair after every beach visit.  Rinse anything that you wear into or around the water so that the salt doesn’t ruin it.  Don’t pack overly good clothes.  Make sure it’s beach friendly, because truly that is where you will spend half of your time.  I reckon I didn’t use 1/4 of the clothes I packed for this very reason.

Sunscreen is a MUST.  I can’t stress this enough.  Even coming from Australia, the sun was so bitey.  Please be careful or you will end up very, very burnt.  And make sure you drink enough water.  Dehydration can happen rapidly.

Take an underwater camera, disposable or otherwise.  Schools of fish, stingrays and starfish can all be found in stunning clear water less than 1/2 meter deep.  So even if you aren’t into snorkelling or scuba diving, you can be assured to see sealife somewhere!

This is the place for water sports.  And because the waters are so calm and warm, it’s the best place to give them a try for the first time too.  Snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, scuba diving – just give it a bash.

Despite the fact that Cayman is not huge, it is not really that easy to get from one part of the island to the other.  A lot of the attractions are spread across different parts of the island.  My advice would be to either hire a car, or if you want to hit up numerous attractions pick up a tour.  Generally the tours visit the same locations, so choose between what you will see on the tour and what you can get to by local bus or taxi easily.

I would definitely stay along 7-Mile beach again.  A self-contained room, like what you’ll find at Sunshine Suites is perfect.  That way you can prepare the majority of your meals and then just splash out on the odd one.  There are some great value buffet meals around – like XQ’s and the Marriott’s Buckaneer’s feast.  But don’t forget to try some local specialties.

New York

If you are happy with a not so close up snapshot of the Statue of Liberty, just catch the free Staten Island Ferry.  If you want a better close up, I would suggest taking one of the paid ferries, which travel closer to the statue.  Of course, if you actually want to access Ellis Island and climb the statue, then that’s another option again.

The museums are huge.  Central Park is huge.  A lot of the time, you will need to decide whether you have time to dedicate a whole day or whether you want to fit more into your day.  I chose to do a little of each thing, rather than one or two things, but that’s just me.

New York is an easy city to walk around.  I walked most places, but I found that cabs were affordable and used them on occasions such as late at night or for further trips.  Bring good walking shoes.

New York is a noisy city.  Earplugs did not work for me.  Get yourself good and tired during the day and then have a few glasses of wine before bed, perhaps go to bed with the TV on snooze and hopefully that will give you a few good hours before daylight.

I found it easy to eat relatively healthy in New York.  There are plenty of shops such as Pret a Manger, Fresh & Co, Hale & Hearty where you can get fresh salads, sandwiches and fruit and they are open all day serving breakfast through to dinners.

New York is literally the city that never sleeps, but the city doesn’t sleep in either, so if you are into getting out there and seeing all the sights you can stuff into your visit, plan on some long, long days.  There are people out on the streets until late at night, and you can dine at any time of the day.

I wouldn’t stay here any less than 4 nights next time.  I stayed at the Affinia Manhattan in Midtown, across the road from Madison Square Gardens and a 10-15 minute walk from Times Square.  I felt this was a perfect location.  The hotel, whilst old, had been recently renovated.  The rooms were large and funky, if not still showing some signs of age.  Niles Restaurant had great meals and hotel guests were entitled to a 20% discount on dining in.  There were a load of restaurants around the area in any case.

Seattle

I stayed in Belltown and I don’t reckon I could have chosen a better place.  Walking distance to the Space Needle/EMP, Pike Place Market, the shopping district and the waterfront, loads and loads of restaurants and bars to choose from – what more could you want.  Seattle is an easy city to walk around, and its such a pretty place, there’s no reason you wouldn’t want to.

Get out and visit Mt Rainier – it’s worth it.  I chose Mt Rainier over Yosemite, as Mt Rainier is only a 2hour trip each way.  I chose Evergreen Escapes and although I probably paid a little more, the service and quality of the day was well and truly worth it.

Things don’t get going that early in the morning, so go for a walk around the markets, sleep in or do breakfast somewhere nice.

I wouldn’t stay here any less than 4 nights next time.  And I would definitely stay at the Ace Hotel again (I had a private room, but you can book otherwise).  The free breakfast was awesome.  The place smelt so clean and fresh and the staff were awesome.  The bed was the most comfortable I stayed in the whole time I was away.  FYI – Ace also have a hotel in New York.

San Francisco

San Francisco is not really an easy city to walk around.  A lot of the streets are actually at a 45 degree angle.  Obviously if that’s what you’re into, then go for it.

There are homeless people everywhere, as with all cities, but I didn’t feel threatened anywhere else.   I didn’t do my research thoroughly enough and ended up on the edge of Tenderloin (well I knew there were homeless people around, but just not quite the extent).  In saying that, Macys, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Hilton and the Westin were all about two blocks away and they weren’t immune either.  I probably would have felt more comfortable staying in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, seeing as that’s where I spent most of my time. There’s loads of restaurants here and most of the tourist attractions are here or leave from here.  Because I didn’t feel safe here by myself, I would suggest the city sightseeing buses or guided tours with hotel pickup/dropoff.

I chose to stay at the Best Western Hotel California.   The vegan restaurant at the hotel, Millenium was fabulous.  Don’t let the fact that its vegan put you off – the meals are so hearty that you probably won’t even notice.  But I wouldn’t stay here again.

If you want to go to Alcatraz, book in advance if possible.

Pack warm.  Even in ‘summer’.  July (summer) is the foggiest month.  I would say it was more akin to winter in Perth.

Singapore

Let’s face it, I don’t think there’s many parts of Singapore that you could go wrong for accommodation.  But that said, I like indulging in everything that Singapore has to offer.  The only thing that would determine my accommodation is this – if you want to relax by the water, have kids or want to indulge in water sports – head to Sentosa.  If you are keen for shopping – stay on Orchard Road.  If you are into luxury – head to Marina Bay.  If you like Museums and great food, perhaps head for Chinatown or the Raffles area.  If you want a quieter, greener area, try around Cuscaden Road.  Keep in mind, nowhere on the island is more than a 10-20 minute taxi ride and Singapore’s MRT system is fantastic.  So you really can’t go wrong.

There is always something new to do in Singapore.  Keep an eye out on www.yoursingapore.com, www.timeoutsingapore.com or even just make sure you pick up the tourist brochures at the airport like Where and you will find out all you need to know about where to go and what to do.  I can recommend any tours by Tour East (www.toureast.net), especially the Night Safari with dinner, which I find to be the best value.

Singapore is not just about tourist attractions though, so if like me, you had no idea how much history Singapore had particularly in relation to World War II, make sure you check out Fort Siloso (on Sentosa), Changi Prison & Chapel, Fort Canning or the Old Ford Factory for starters.

Culture vultures will not want to miss the Chinatown Heritage Museum and the Peranakan Museum.  There are also numerous walking tours through Chinatown and Little India.  And for art lovers – you must stop by SAM or the Art Science Museum.  But sometimes, the best thing about Singapore is that even if you just stroll around the streets, you will get a really good picture of the country, its food and its people.  And don’t be afraid to try anything here – the food is amazing.

Again, things don’t get going until around 10/11am in the morning, so use the time to enjoy brunch, sleep in or just explore the streets or Botanic Gardens while it’s quiet.

Hotel 1929’s terrace rooms are the best.  That said, I would only chose one of these if I were by myself or with a boyfriend etc, simply because the rooms are on the small side and the toilet is situated in with the shower, surrounded by glass.  The hotel itself is in a great location, the staff were amazing.  Free wifi, good coffee, free breakfast, free cookies and drinks.  Well worth the price, which was much less than a lot of the other big name hotels

Don’t bother with a transfer here, just grab a cab from outside the airport.

Overall

Whilst there’s lots of conjecture over what works and what doesn’t when trying to combat jet lag, what worked for me was a) following the time clock of the city I arrived in (ie. even if you are tired, make yourself go out for dinner or even just sit on a city sightseeing bus and go to sleep when the sun goes down) and b) try Jet Ease (or No Jet Lag), they may be called something different in your country, but I found this homeopathic remedy to work a treat.

Book transfers.  I know you can catch taxis, but I prefer to know that I don’t have to bothered thinking about where I’m going and how I’m going to get there after a long flight.

I booked a lot of tickets on line which saved time queuing up.

When you are budgeting, make sure you include for tipping – I found this added incredibly to my bills in Cayman and the US.

Everyone will tell you this – but don’t over pack.  You won’t use it all.  And if there’s something  you need while you are there, if you need it bad enough, you can buy it.

Buy a second battery for your camera.  I take lots of photos and the best investment I made was in a second battery.  I find there are lots of days where I spend all day snapping away and not having to worry that I’m running out of battery is a relief.  Obviously make sure you have lots of spare cards if you are also this way inclined.

My best flights were with Emirates, Jet Blue and Singapore Airlines.  I was surprised that you had to buy food on the six hour Virgin flight from New York to Seattle.

Order a low fat meal for the flight home!

Any questions?  Please drop me a line and I’ll be more than happy to share my point of view!

Flying, flying and yep – more flying!

Day 27/28:  San Francisco / Hong Kong

Leaving San Fran last night, it occurred to me that I couldn’t think of any redeeming features about the place at all.  It’s not pretty, day or night, its miserable, I didn’t find the people friendly, the homelessness is saddening, the wharf is really touristy – and no seals – Alcatraz is hard to get a ticket for, the weather is crap, the streets are so hilly that it’s not fun to explore.  The best things about it were the meal at Millenium and the chocolate at Ghirardelli.  It’s funny how some places draw you in and others – well others kind of slap you in the face.

But I’m back in the air again and on my way home.

All this flying is getting tiring. I’ve now flown six different airlines, eaten so many different airline meals and have seen lots of movies including some I wish I hadn’t (I’m talking to you the Incredible Burt Wonderstone).  I’ve noticed that there are screaming children and inconsiderate, dumb people on every flight (why do you always choose to use the loo as soon as the hosties start service and seriously, how many times does she need to tell you to put your seat to the upright position and turn off your mobile phone?)  There’s different rules for what you need to do at security checkpoints at different airports – shoes on/ shoes off, laptop in cover/laptop out of cover.  There’s good airport lounges (Changi/Seattle) and not so good ones (Miami/Perth).  But it all adds to the experience of travelling.

Sitting in Hong Kong International Airport, waiting for my connection to Singapore, I smile to myself knowing that I’m almost home.

Counting Down

Day 26:  San Francisco

Today I was supposed to do an urban adventure walking out onto the Golden Gate Bridge along the Pacific Coast, visiting San Francisco’s most exclusive neighbourhood and the Sutro Baths.  But guess what – I found out yesterday that I’m the only one booked on this tour.  This is the first place I’ve ever been to where they don’t like to run tours for solo guests.  I’ve done a few of them now and they turn out the best because you can generally tailor them a bit more and also see a bit more.  But in San Fran, they are incredibly eager to move you to another day with other people or cancel.

After the cancellation of my wine tour yesterday morning, I just decided to go with the cancellation on this one too.  I figure my heart is already not into this place, and if they are trying to talk me out of these tours, then their hearts aren’t in it either, so it would be a waste of time for everyone.  Whatever.  San Fran is not my place.  The cards keep falling to show this.  Today is my last day here and I can fly out in the early hours of tomorrow morning that I never have to come back again.

So yesterday in the Hard Rock I mapped out a whole new plan for today, which was all very fine and well until I started researching it a bit more, and quite frankly, everywhere in this town is filled with homeless people.  Please don’t get me wrong – there was homeless people in New York and there was homeless people in Seattle.  They were also in London.  And I was fine with it – you read my blogs, it certainly didn’t stop me from getting out and about.  But the vibe here is different, a little more in your face and menacing if I can call it anything, a bit more drug addled and its making me feel uneasy.  I’m not feeling confident as a solo female traveller in this town.

So even though I know I am not making the most of the city or probably even giving it a proper chance, at the end of the day I don’t have to and I’d prefer to just feel safe.  So I jump in a cab and just head back to Fishermans Wharf – yes, where I spent yesterday, but there’s other stuff I haven’t seen, and frankly it’s the only place I feel kind of ok about.

Instead of the woeful hotel breakfast, I decide to dine at Pier 39, overlooking the water.  There’s still no seals.

I contemplate hopping on a tram, but the line is too long.

I stop by Ghirardelli for a chocolate hot fudge sundae.

Oh yes, it tastes as good as it looks
Oh yes, it tastes as good as it looks

I wander around the Hyde Street Pier.

Hyde St Pier
Hyde St Pier

I hear an evacuation test alert sound out across the bay.

I see a clearer picture of Alcatraz today.

Alcatraz from Hyde St Pier
Alcatraz from Hyde St Pier

I have lunch at Tarantino’s.

I spy the famous Bush Man – a homeless dude who hides behind bushes around Fisherman’s Harbour and scares the crap out of people walking by.  My video isn’t very good and won’t upload anyway, but here’s one from the web:

That dude had some serious money in his bucket – more than I’ve seen in most tip jars.

There’s also another homeless man that walks around with a cat standing on his shoulders.

Arriving back at my hotel at 2pm in the afternoon would normally be a bad thing, but I figure at least I can store up some sleep for my long flight ahead.

My transfer arrives at 10pm tonight, and I’ll be out of this town on my way to the last destination of my trip, my  Singapore.  I can definitely say, I won’t be leaving my heart in San Francisco.

Um, ho-hum

Day 25:  San Francisco

I was looking forward to getting out of the city on a cycling wine tour through Californian wine country today.  I thought this might make up for yesterdays opinion of San Fran.  After a very bland, boring free breakfast (why can’t I go back to Ace where there’s waffles and granola?), and with about half an hour to go before the tour pick up, the tour company calls.  Seems no one else was booked to do my wine tour today, so they cancelled it, citing that I wouldn’t have a very good time by myself.  Because I’m having such a good time in San Fran anyway.  They are probably right, I’m certainly not in the right frame of mind to spend the day making small talk with a guide I don’t know.  Good to see my bad run in San Fran is continuing today.

I was determined to start today with a positive attitude, but its not starting out very well, is it.  I just have to keep trying to remind myself to turn it around.  OK, well I can try and move my city sightseeing bus to today and that will give me more time to see the sights of San Fran.  Done.  I arrive at Fisherman’s Wharf to start the tour.

It’s FREEZING today.  It’s foggy.  And yes, this is summer.  I’m dressed in a real hodge podge of clothes trying to keep warm because I sent my warmest jacket home by mail from New York after running out of room.  I’ve got my newly purchased long sleeve Seattle shirt on a zip up sweatshirt and scarf and I’m still cold.  Un-glamorous and cold.

This bus is probably a good idea for today.  I’m just going to sit here and take photos out the window.  I see that the bus stops at the Asian Art Museum – yay, but its closed on Mondays – of course.

San Fran tram
San Fran tram

I intend on getting out at some of the stops, but the thought of having to wait for the next bus in the cold is not appealing.  So I sit on the bus until it stops off at Union Square where I head to Macy’s for something I know is sure to cheer me up.

Trans America Building and Café Zoetrope
Trans America Building and Café Zoetrope
Far away view of the Lombard Street (crookedest street)
Far away view of the Lombard Street (crookedest street)

Shopping

Walking into Macy’s, I feel like a hobo.  But I just have to forget about it and remember, you don’t live here, so who cares what anyone thinks.  I actually manage to find a few pieces that I like and which will hopefully fill some of the gaps in my wardrobe (hahaha – gaps in my wardrobe, that’s hilarious).  Stepping outside I fend off another homeless dude.  I’m not being heartless, the hotel literature tells you not to give them money and I don’t think he’d fancy my new floral skirt, so I have no other option.

Union Square
Union Square

I cross back over Union Square and get back on the bus hoping to continue on my loop, but this bus loops around Union Square twice, meaning that its already covered the other parts I wanted to see.  But that’s ok, because soon enough we end up back at Pier 39.  There’s seals here, that’ll cheer me up!

Pier 39

There’s no seals here.  Not one.  In everyone else’s photos of San Fran that I’ve seen, there are seals littering these pontoons.  On the way here, the guide was saying what a nuisance the seals have been throughout history and all the different ways they had tried to get rid of them.  Well, there are no seals now.

Not even one...
Not even one…

I wonder around the pier for a while.  There’s a shop called Chocolate Heaven, which stocks – surprise, surprise – all sorts of chocolate, so I grab some Ghirardelli chocolate to take home for the family.  And you can see Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge from here, through the fog.

Alcatraz
Alcatraz
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

There’s souvenir shops (including one for left handed gifts), pearl shops, all sorts of restaurants, an aquarium and a carousel, all set on the water, a bit similar to Fremantle, only there’s nothing at Fremantle except fish and chips.  It’s quite a nice vibe here, but its still cold and really glary.

Pier 39
Pier 39

There’s a fresh fruit stall, with massive strawberries.  I buy a few for later.  I’d like to buy a bit more fruit, but there’s no bar fridge back at my hotel, so there’s no way to keep it cool and fresh.

Sweet!
Sweet!

Then I see something that I know will make my day better, shining like a beacon in the distance, guiding the distressed ship into the shore…

The Hard Rock Café.  Thank goodness for rock.  The Hard Rock was first created in London in 1971, by Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton.  It was designed to be a restaurant where the classes could mingle happily, and it worked.  Bankers and plumbers packed the place.  As did bands like the Beatles and the Stones.  One of its biggest fans was Eric Clapton, who requested Isaac put up a plaque to permanently save him a table.  Isaac told him ‘we don’t do plaques, but how about we hang up your guitar?’  So this is how it all began.  There are more than 72,000 pieces in the Hard Rock collection world wide, the world’s greatest rock memorabilia collection.

I’m so glad to be here, just to enjoy a good meal in an environment that I love, that I don’t even bother really looking at the memorabilia to see what’s here in San Fran.  I do spy Michael Jackson’s black hat, but I’m sorry Lola – I couldn’t get a photo because people were sitting in front of it.

Sitting listening music, feeding on fries, biting off pieces of my swiss mushroom burger between sips of red, I feel better and start to map out a plan to make tomorrow a better day.

I jump back on the tour bus for a while.  Enroute, I learn that my hotel is on the border of the part of town called Tenderloin.

Tenderloin

Though there is argument over the exact borders of Tenderloin, it is generally accepted as being bordered by Market, Van Ness, Geary and Mason Streets.  I am on Geary Street.  It sounds bad, but there’s a Hilton round the corner, Macy’s, Maxazria BCBG, Gucci, Tiffany, Saks 5th Avenue, the Westin all two to three (short) blocks away, so you just can’t tell.  There’s plenty of homeless people hanging around those high end addresses.  They are down at Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Financial District.  I think that’s the overwhelming part, is that the homelessness is not just confined to one area, it’s everywhere.

Some of the streets around the worst parts of Tenderloin
Some of the streets around the worst parts of Tenderloin

It’s believed the area received its name because members of the police force posted to the area were paid higher salaries for the hazards they had to deal with, which enabled them to buy better cuts of meat.  There are other stories as well, who knows.  But it’s pretty down and out.

The bus takes me back to Union Square, which is a couple of blocks from my hotel.  There’s a crazy black dude sitting on the wall on Union Square.  As we pull alongside, he starts shaking his head crazily, flapping his arms around and screaming, as if he’s trying to get something out of his head.

I’m back at the hotel by about 2.30pm, so I think that’s a good sign that perhaps a nap would be a good idea.

But just before I do that – just a little rant for the day on tipping.  You know Australians are known world wide as being bad tippers.  It’s not customary to tip at home, so most of the time I’m sure its just ignorance, though I hardly think that’s an excuse if you’ve read some of my other blogs – going to a country, learn something about it.  But can I just say, even though people expect to be tipped, I can’t say I’ve actually seen much of the behaviour that warrants it.  I don’t think nicely asking how your meal was is all they have to do.  Not ignoring you is a good start, grunting at me certainly doesn’t make me think about tipping and when you walk away in the middle of me asking how I can buy something additional off you – you guessed it – you ain’t getting any more of my money.  I think for me to pay way more than what my meal / ticket / directions would cost me at home you need to be making my experience worthwhile.  Answer my questions, make me feel like I’m worth your time, then your tip will be worth it.

Rant over.

I make a reservation for dinner downstairs and set my alarm.

Millenium

Millenium is dedicated to supporting organic food production, small farms, sustainable agriculture, recycling and composting.  Fresh produce is delivered every day, organic whenever possible.  The gourmet menu is created out of vegetarian, healthy and environmentally friendly foods and completely  free of genetically modified foods.

And best of all, I don’t even have to leave the building.

The complimentary bread is fresh (you hear that Boudin?) and comes with an awesome spread which I unfortunately cannot remember the ingredients of except parsley.  My potato and chard roulard, with mushroom cream sauce, mixed mushrooms with broccolini is amazing.  And dessert, which is green tea and lemongrass crème caramel, served with thai basil-lime ice cream, sesame tuile basket, five spice biscotti and lychee syrup – to die for.

Amazing and meat free
Amazing and meat free
Art on a plate
Art on a plate

While probably not the cheapest meal for one to spend for oneself, sometimes you just need to do something for the soul.

Something else that’s good for the soul – laughing.  Kicking back, finishing off my beautiful sweet strawberries, I’ve just seen on the news something that made me laugh – have a look what San Francisco TV station KTVU-TV did!

Didn’t You Notice Sum Tin Wong KTVU-TV???

Stephen Colbert says those names are of the wrong ethnicity and they should have used Hau Yu Lan Dis Ting.

Bahaha

Disappointment Leaving, Disappointment Arriving

Day 24:  Seattle / San Francisco

I don’t want to leave Seattle.  I wish I had way more time to enjoy this city.  Obviously I knew that the music history of the city would reel me in, but I didn’t expect how pretty it would be and what an awesome vibe the city emanated.

There’s still time for a couple of last minute things this morning before I fly out, so I head to the Pike Place Market to find the gum wall, Rachel the pig and the piroshky shop.

I’ve walked around and through the markets a couple of times over the past few days but have just not been able to locate the gum wall.  I will find it today if I do nothing else!

Pike Place Markets

Pike Place Market is a public market overlooking the Elliot Bay waterfront.  The Market opened August 17, 1907, and is one of the oldest continually operated public farmers’ markets in the United States.  Named after the central street, Pike Place runs northwest from Pike Street to Virginia Street, and remains one of Seattle’s most popular tourist destinations.

The first building at the Market, the Main Arcade, opened November 30, 1907.  In 1963, a proposal was floated to demolish Pike Place Market and replace it with Pike Plaza.  This was supported by the mayor, many on the city council, and a number of market property owners.  However, there was significant community opposition, and in 1971, an initiative was passed that created a historic preservation zone and returned the Market to public hands.

To market, to market
To market, to market

The Pike Market Performers’ Guild, founded 2001, represents Market street performers.  Among its members are Artis the Spoonman – the man whom the Soundgarden song ‘Spoonman” was penned.  Performers may receive donations and may display their recordings for sale, but are prohibited from active solicitation of donations and from active sale of “any product associated with the performance”.  Each performance is limited to one hour if any other licensed performer is waiting for the spot.  Electronic amplification is not allowed, nor are brass instruments or drums.  Certain performance locations are further limited to “quiet” performances where even hand-clap percussion is not allowed.  Unfortunately I am too early for any such performances, but onward with the search for the elusive gum wall!

Gum Wall

The Market Theater Gum Wall is a local landmark in Post Alley under Pike Place Market.  Under.  And this is where I’ve been going wrong.  I’ve been up and down the market stretch, but not under.  Finally, I find the steps that take me under the market to this brick alleyway wall covered in used chewing gum.  Parts of the wall are covered several inches thick, 15 feet high for 50 feet.  The wall is by the box office for the Market Theater, and the tradition began around 1993 when patrons of Unexpected Productions Seattle Theatresports stuck gum to the wall and placed coins in the gum blobs.  Theater workers scraped the gum away twice, but eventually gave up after market officials deemed the gum wall a tourist attraction around 1999.  Some people create small works of art out of gum.  It was named one of the top 5 germiest tourist attractions in 2009, second to the Blarney Stone.

Ew,
Ew,
ew...
ew…
...and ew!
…and ew!

Rachel the Pig

I didn’t know where the start looking for Rachel, but she found me.  Pike Place Market’s unofficial mascot, Rachel, a bronze cast piggy bank that weighs 250kg, has been located at the corner of Pike Place under the “Public Market Center” sign, since 1986.  Rachel was designed by local artist Georgia Gerber and modelled after a pig (also named Rachel) that lived on Whidbey Island and was the 1977 Island County prize-winner.  Rachel receives roughly US$6,000–$9,000 annually in just about every type of world currency, which is collected by the Market Foundation to fund the Market’s social services.

The biggest piggy bank I've ever seen
The biggest piggy bank I’ve ever seen

Piroshky Piroshky

What is a Piroshky?  The most simple answer is that they are hand held pies with fillings as diverse as the cultures and people who make and serve them.  The beauty of Piroshky is that everyone makes it a little differently with recipes passed down from generation to generation.

This bakery started at the Pike Place Market two decades ago and embraces and integrates the taste of the Northwest into their own traditional recipes.  These piroshkies are made from scratch and hand moulded into their very own unique shapes.  These massive wedges of goodness are too good for words and rather light, not like my memories of my Polish grandmothers buttery kitchen.  Probably not really breakfast fare, but I couldn’t leave Seattle without trying them.

Potato and Mushroom Piroshky
Potato and Mushroom Piroshky

But now its time to leave Seattle and move on to the next part of my journey.  Travelling along the freeway towards the airport, small tears form at the corners of my eyes.  I don’t want to leave.  I don’t feel like this about many places – Singapore has a new competitor – it’s only distance and cost that will keep me away from here but I will definitely want to come back and spend a serious amount of time here in this warm, artsy, inviting city.

Boarding the plane and all prepped for takeoff, the captain tells us the words no passenger wants to hear.  We have been further delayed due to a mechanical problem.  One of the switches (which one?????) is sticking and we may have to go back to the terminal.  It’s a nervous wait, but the captain finally advises we have been cleared for takeoff.  So have we really, or are you just taking a chance?  Would it be better to have to board a new plane with a clean slate, or continue to fly on this plane, which may or may not have an issue?  We obviously have no say in the decision.  All I can say is, it better not be the luggage hold switch, cause if you lose my precious Sub Pop 200 CD to the skies, you will pay!

It’s only an hour and three quarters flight to San Francisco, so it’s not long before we are touching down, on what is possibly one of the smoothest landings of my trip to date.  Always the way!

Leaving the airport, a thick fog is rolling in from the left and every square inch of the landscape is dotted with box shaped homes and buildings.  The boxed up scenery is replaced by ivy covered hillsides before giving way to the cityscape.  Pretty soon we are driving through the uninspiring streets of San Francisco.  The first thing that stands out is the sheer number of homeless and down’n’outs.  It’s around 5pm on a Sunday afternoon, which is the part that shocks me.  But by now, I’ve seen my fair share of homeless in America’s cities.

The hotel is not awesome.  I was so spoilt at the Ace.  The foyer smelt clean like Aesop products and the towels smelt so fresh and the place was light and airy and funky.  So basically this hotel is the entire opposite.  Inside my room, there’s leftover cake and coffee from someone else and even used soap in the shower.  I step outside the hotel to head to Fisherman’s wharf for dinner, and am immediately accosted by an obvious drug addict, her eyes literally rolling around in her head.  I tell her I have just arrived and have no cash, but she says ‘how does that matter?’  Obviously, she’s not on the ball, but she freaks me out with her eyes rolling around like that and I retreat back into the hotel.  Ok, so in the other cities, the homeless have just moved on and left you alone, but these ones are obviously more active.  Regroup.

I wanted to go to Fishermans Wharf, but now I don’t know whether to just stay in the hotel.  I kick myself in the butt, go outside and grab a cab.  You can do this – c’mon!  There’s sourdough chowder bowls to be tried!

The cab driver takes the crap out of me for talking too fast.  Are you kidding?  The rest of the world teases us Aussies for being such slow, laid-back talkers but according to this dude I’m talking a hundred miles an hour.  Can’t win.

Fishermans Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular area of San Francisco for exploring.   It’s name comes from the city’s early Gold Rush days when Italian immigrant fishermen settled in the area and fished for the Dungeness crab.  From then on it remained the home base of San Francisco’s fishing fleet.  Despite redevelopment into a tourist attraction during the 1970s and 1980s, the area is still home to many active fishermen and their fleets.

The Wharf
The Wharf
Nice summer's evening down at the Wharf...not
Nice summer’s evening down at the Wharf…not

Before dinner, I step inside the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum.  My sister Jen and I used to love watching Ripley’s on TV when we were young girls, so I think there’s sure to be some fascinating stuff in here!  There’s a couple of interesting things, but nothing that really blew my mind.  If I’d known, I would have bought a Ripley’s book instead of a ticket because it probably contains more than this building.

Believe it...or not
Believe it…or not
The remains of a car whose driver was trapped inside for over 89 hours under tons of rubble after the 1989 earthquake
The remains of a car whose driver was trapped inside for over 89 hours under tons of rubble after the 1989 earthquake
Robert Ripley - his best friend once described him as having no fashion sense and dressing like someone had thrown a can of paint at him.  Nice friend!
Robert Ripley – his best friend once described him as having no fashion sense and dressing like someone had thrown a can of paint at him. Nice friend!

Not to worry, I’m really here to try a sourdough breadbowl, so I arrive at Boudin and grab a seat.  Now Boudin is a bakery that has specialised in baking sourdough bread for over 150 years, which is why I though they would be the best place to try this local dish.  My bread was definitely not oven fresh.  It was kind of, well… stale-ish.  Surely it should have been absolutely fresh from the oven almost.  I buy fresher bread from Tony Ales food market back home.  Three quarters the way through my meal, a bread basket is placed on my table – because that’s exactly what you need when you’ve just consumed a big bread bowl of chowder.

Sourdough Clam Chowder
Sourdough Clam Chowder

I’m beginning to think I really should have stayed back at the hotel.  What about chocolate?  Ghirardelli must be around here somewhere.  They’ve been here since 1852.  Between 1852 and 1895, Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Factory was located at four different sites before the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company took over the Pioneer Woolen Mills on North Point Street—today’s site of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Manufactory & Soda Fountain and Ghirardelli Square.  Hot fudge sundae would be perfect!  But the small shop is packed and I just can’t be bothered waiting.

Chocolate down at the wharf
Chocolate down at the wharf

The air is super chilly here down on the wharf, so I cut my losses and grab a cab back to the hotel.  Probably a good time to mention that a lot of the streets literally run at a 45 degree angle.  Up, then down.  Up then down.  You wouldn’t want to be drunk in a cab on the way home up and down these hills, and I’m praying the complimentary tequila shot I got upon checking in at my hotel doesn’t come back up unexpectedly.  I’m not having a good start to my time in San Fran so far.  Maybe I’m just tired.  I’ve been on the go sightseeing, taking in new information and new experiences every day for the last 24 days, at times running on adrenalin.  I keep thinking that I should have stayed in Seattle longer and skipped San Fran.  But I know these days happen and can just hope that maybe tomorrow will be better.